Kimbra's sophomore album, The Golden Echo, is a joyride full of punchy beats and soaring vocals that careen through funk, R&B, and electronica. The New Zealand-born songstress continues to infuse her music with soulful flavor, but on her recent album she toys with an experimental brand of pop music. The Golden Echo exposes her willingness to pursue the unexpected, and while it runs the risk of alienating fans that revere her as an indie princess, it shows a tremendous amount of creativity on Kimbra's part. If her upcoming, sold-out show at The Observatory is half as interesting as her new album, Orange County is in for one hell of a ride.
Kimbra began work on The Golden Echo in 2013 after picking up two Grammy's for her work as the female counterpart in Gotye's inescapable, multi-platinum track "Somebody That I Used To Know." During the 18 month writing process for The Golden Echo she composed more than 70 songs, and ultimately whittled the stack down to 10 tracks for the standard release and 13 for the deluxe edition. The final product not only pays homage to '90s pop and hip-hop icons, it creates a feeling of being transported into Kimbra's personal galaxy of tripped-out sound.
The Golden Echo shifts between jarring and hypnotic moments, an effect Kimbra shares was intentional. Working alongside co-producer Rich Costey [Nine Inch Nails, The Shins] she hoped to create an arc in the album. Costey opened the door for contributions from Muse front man Matt Bellamy and The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez, but Kimbra had a few heavy hitting friends of her own to enlist. Mark Foster of Foster The People popped into the studio, along with her newfound collaborator John Legend who she met via Twitter. Additional creative inflections came courtesy of bass virtuoso Thundercat, soul singer Bilal, and Flying Lotus.
"I never used to be up for collaborations, I was really scared of them when I was making my first album," Kimbra says. "On this album I was very blessed. I'd been given a massive opportunity because people knew my music, so why not use that to see what kind of artist I am? I wanted to push my voice and push my production skills."
The dizzying list of collaborators baits the question of whether or not Kimbra steered the ship or became overrun by castaways. Rest assured, this album is the otherworldly fruit of Kimbra's labor. The collaborations are subtle accents versus distracting cameos, and considering Kimbra handled pre-production and orchestrated the album alongside Costey, it's obvious she took a hands-on approach. She notes that this album is intended to be journey, full of peaks and valleys that she hopes will convey thought provoking music.
"The Golden Echo is symbolic of this echo that calls me to engage deeper, and I want to invite the fans to engage deeper with this music as well," Kimbra says of the album, whose title came to her in a dream. "I understand it can be a challenging record on the first listen. But as you live inside it, it really does, I believe, unveil itself to you -and brings a truthfulness."
During the recording process, Kimbra hopped between a recording studio in Burbank and her apartment in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles -which happened to be on an urban farm. She says that transitioning from an environment with live sheep and chickens to a studio with cutting edge equipment played to her creative side and fueled the album's juxtaposed feel. "It helped me to really listen and find that young child inside, that little kid on the playground that just wants to create and find new sounds they've never made before."
Whether Kimbra's imagination was liberated from environmental factors or internal conflict remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that The Golden Echo hijacks some of the best aspects of disco, hip hop, and funk. Her excursion to the atmospheric boundaries of pop results in a fresh dose of fluctuating rhythms and funky lyrics. If Kimbra's aiming to push herself–and in the process create something uniquely satisfying–she hit her target.
Kimbra performs at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Friday, October 24, 8 p.m. $20 all ages. For more information on Kimbra visit www.kimbramusic.com